[Video Game Review] Fire Emblem Awakening for Nintendo 3DS

So I think this is my first ever video game review for this blog, which is kind of funny since I play a lot of video games, but it’s never really crossed my mind to talk about them.  Now that I’ve thought of it, I think I’ll eventually go back through my collection and pull out my favorites and review them…but that’s all future talk.  Right now I’m going to talk about a recent 3DS release, Fire Emblem Awakening.

Fire Emblem U.S. Box Art

I’m telling you right now—whether you’re new to the franchise or a longtime fan—this game is wicked.

And people know it, which is why this baby has been selling like hot cakes.  In fact, apparently Nintendo hadn’t been expecting (did they not learn from what happened in Japan?) the game to be too popular in the U.S., so they did not make enough supply to meet demand.  If you haven’t heard about it already, it’s a bit of a fiasco because the game and the 3DS bundle package was supposed to be available in all game specialty stores and sections of stores this past Monday, February 4th.  From what I know, currently Target is the only place with the game available (and I think it’s games only; I don’t think they have the limited edition bundles), a lot of their locations are either in limited supply or already sold out.  Of course you can always download it from Nintendo eShop (which apparently had a system crash failure launch night due to so many people being on the store at the same time), but I’ll get to a potential problem about going that route in a minute.

Before I go any further, I just want to give people a heads up that **THIS REVIEW IS GOING TO CONTAIN SPOILERS** more so in terms of gaming features than the story, but I just thought I’d mention that in case there are readers out there who don’t want to know anything about it at all, and just dive into this new world with a clean slate.

I’ve only had the game for a little under 72 hours at this point, and I’ve only put it down when I absolutely had to (meaning mostly while I’m at work or in the shower, otherwise I can totally multitask while eating and doing my business).  As for sleep?  Who needs that!  Sacrificing sleep over this game has been totally worth it.

Fire Emblem Awakening is an all new, all original game (the 11th original title in the series) made specifically for the Nintendo 3DS.  It is also the first 3Ds game to feature paid downloadable content (DLC).  The DLC will include additional maps, select characters from previous Fire Emblem games, ability to download other people’s teams using the StreetPass function, and a handful of other features.

If you were one of those who downloaded the demo of the game prior to the release thinking you had been shown at least the very beginning of the game, you would be wrong.  You’ll notice the difference right away the minute you start the game, and personally, it got me even more pumped about playing it.  The graphics are fantastic, and while I can’t tell you what the experience is like on a regular-sized 3DS because I don’t own one, I can tell you that on the 3DS XL it looks amazing.  Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the game looks even better with the additional real estate.

For those of you who only ever collected the GBA and DS installments of this franchise, this game is going to be quite the upgrade for you.  However, if you’ve played the Game Cube or Nintendo Wii titles, this game might seem more like just a couple steps up rather than a giant leap.  Gone are the 2D graphics, and the story seems a lot more detailed than the previous handheld installments.  Also, this game actually reminded me a lot of the PSP game Jeanne D’Arc, both in graphics and in story.  It’s another tactics-styled game that I personally thought was absolutely fantastic and probably one of the best games released on that system.  I highly recommend playing it if you own the system and you can find a pre-owned copy or even download it from the PSN store.

Speaking of online stores, before I go any further I just want to mention something that I never did in my 3Ds vs. PS Vita write-up from a while back.  I found a new downside of Nintendo’s eShop to add to the list that may deter some people from using the eShop, especially for those who like to purchase multiple systems for whatever reason; maybe just to upgrade (like DS to DS Lite, then from DS Lite to DSi, and so on).  I think this is such an important piece of information, I’m not only going to bold it, I’m even going to highlight the words using a different color.

If you purchase a title via Nintendo eShop, you can re-download the game ONLY ON THAT SYSTEM.  What does that mean?  It means that unlike the way Sony’s online shop works for its handhelds, you cannot just move your memory card over to the next system thinking you can keep that data, nor is there a way to connect your eShop accounts to multiple 3DS systems.  This is Nintendo’s way of preventing people from allowing their friends to get a copy of the game without paying for it, though honestly I think it is more of a hassle than anything else.  So basically the moral of the story is buy a hard copy of games you think you’re really going to love and if you’re planning on using multiple systems, whether it’s because you’re a collector or because you have siblings and need to share.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to buy a license for that same game more than once from the eShop, which is ridiculous.  I think Nintendo needs to find a way to utilize Club Nintendo accounts as a way to connect consoles so that people only really need to buy the game once if they’re using eShop, because really, I think shopping through their online store in the long run could be otherwise beneficial since you wouldn’t have to make plans to leave your house and get whatever game it is you’re trying to get.

Anyway, to keep it simple, I’m going to do a pros/cons list of the game below so that you can judge for yourselves whether or not this game is for you.  Trust me though, you’re going to want a copy.  (And unless Sony finally gets its act together and starts releasing some good games, whether they be original titles or ports/remakes of older ones, the PS Vita doesn’t have a prayer against the 3Ds.  Nintendo’s finally recovering and coming back with a flourish of awesome 3DS titles.)  Anyhow, onward to my lists—the things I highlight are not necessarily in any particular order other than what came to mind first.

PROS

  • Huge Roster: With 30+ playable characters available, not to mention the additional characters you’re supposed to be able to get through DLC or the 3DS SpotPass feature, trying to keep everyone at about the same level and rotating characters has gotten even more complicated.
  • 3D Graphics: Obvious, but gone are the 2D graphics from the previous handheld installments.
  • Plenty of Extras: Mostly the DLC, but also the updates to the support system and some additional goodies added to the menu.
  • Great Storyline: And this is where the game really wins.  Not only does the story seem to have more depth than the previous games, it’s customizable to a degree—and I’m talking about more than being able to pick and choose features for your tactician’s avatar.  Remember the support system updates I mentioned just a second ago?  One of those updates is a “marriage” function.  I personally haven’t experimented too much with it yet since I’m still in the middle of my first game, but if you plan it right, apparently you can influence who ends up marrying who.  I’m not sure how much the storyline changes with each choice, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s pretty neat.
  • Create Your Avatar: It’s no Sims 3, but it’s still a lot better than how it used to be.  Previously, “your” character, the tactician, was never a playable character on the field.  Also, you were given a generic looking icon whenever there was a cut scene on a battle field, and there wasn’t even a generic look for you when it came to regular story cut scenes.  The characters were just animated to look at you, as in the you playing the game.  Now, your character is not only on the field, he/she can also get married to one of the playable characters if you so choose.  This makes the game all the more engaging.
  • High Replay Value: Since each time you play, depending on the choices you make (and the game is advertised as “every choice counts”), little things can change here and there, giving gamers a little more incentive to play the game through again in addition to clearing harder difficulty levels.
  • The “Casual” Option: Some might call this a cheat, but for others (myself included) it may be considered a huge blessing.  There is a new “casual” mode in this game, which allows you to play with considerably less stress.  Traditionally, once one of your characters “died” in battle, you would never be able to use them again later on and they are just sort of written out of the story.  This can make things rather frustrating and you could be stuck on a level for weeks, maybe even months, if you’re the type of person that wants to make sure you have every man still standing by the end.  Or at least keep alive as many as you’re allowed to have—I definitely shook my fist at Shadow Dragon because there were times where you were forced to allow certain characters to die in order to get new ones.
  • “Video” Controls: I haven’t done a lot of playing around with this feature yet, but from what I can tell, you can not only fast forward through battle animation, you can also slow it down, and zoom in/out of the fight.  I believe you can also “record” battle footage and have it saved to your system’s memory card, but I haven’t actually tried the feature yet so I can’t comment on it.
  • Shops, Everywhere: Remember when you used to have to go to the armory or medic shop and lose a turn (sometimes several turns) in order to stock up on items?  Well, thankfully there’s no more of that.  Now on the world map view (oh yes, there’s a world map function now), you can “revisit” cleared levels and buy what you need.  Also, remember the “secret” shops that used to have super expensive but totally wonderful goodies?  They’ve made that easier too.  There will be a special merchant that appears every once in a while (those that play the game will know what I mean) that will temporarily override the default store and have these special items available.  Of course, be aware that these “special offers” will only be around for so many turns before the merchant goes *poof,* so be sure not to spend all your money so quickly.
  • No More Lock Picking Issues: Remember when your thieves used to need lock picks in order to open doors and chests?  Those lock picks were like weapons and had a limited shelf life—if you ran out of uses, you were pretty much SOL.  Now, thank goodness, thieves can just open chests, hassle free.
  • Easier to Change Classes: In earlier games, there was a limited number of class changing items available, and each class had its own item that it needed in order to upgrade to the next class.  That’s been nixed, as now all you need is either a Master Seal or a Second Seal.  The Second Seal can be used to both upgrade to the next class and change to a different class if you end up changing your mind and not liking the class you chose on a character, while the Master Seal just upgrades in general.
  • Grinding: It’s been a long time since I’ve played the older Fire Emblems, so I don’t remember if you could or couldn’t in those games, but in this one, you can replay the DLC maps over and over.  Great for leveling up weaker units, but not so great that you still use up weapons that you will eventually need to replace.
  • Exiting Difficult Levels: Found out you were way in over your head after starting a level?  Not to worry.  You can exit it at any time without penalty at the preparations screen.  This is something I don’t think you can do in the older games.
  • StreetPass/SpotPass: Hopefully this game encourages more people to walk around with their 3DS in sleep mode.  So far I’ve managed to get 6 hits, but I’m definitely hoping for a lot more.  You can obtain other people’s team information and I believe you can recruit them if you receive their data.  Nintendo is also supposedly going to make additional free content available via the 3DS SpotPass function.

CONS

  • It’s a Big, Small World: I know, say what?  While the world itself initially seems huge, there’s only about 23-25 main chapters.  All things considered, that’s a pretty short game for Fire Emblem.  It’s been a while since I’ve played the old ones, but I’m pretty sure those chapters went somewhere up in the 50s.  Sure there are a bunch of side quests, extra chapters, and of course the promised DLC just around the corner, but even that can seem to go by pretty quickly.  I can say this because in just under 72 hours, I’m getting close to the game’s end; I’m already in the late teens.  This is compared to when I played the older installments, one of which took me months to get through—almost a whole year to beat, actually.  Of course, I’m also on the easiest mode possible, so that might be why I’m clearing stages so fast.
  • Confusing Support System: Whereas in the older games all you had to do was put two characters next to each other and click on the “talk” option, now it’s less clear how exactly you’re increasing your support.  Sometimes it just seems pretty darn random.  I can’t tell whether my characters are getting closer to each other just when I put them next to each other on the battle field, or if it’s every time I put two compatible characters on the battlefield at the same time.
  • “Battle Buddies” System: If you play the game, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.  There’s a function now, similar to the “rescue” function from earlier games, where you can “pair” two characters together on the playing field.  The only key differences seem to be now you switch who is the primary character in that pair that fights enemies, but really there’s no huge additional benefits other than what the rescue function used to do; save characters low on HP from getting killed off and having slower characters piggyback off ones with better movement range.  However, with the addition of the new support system in place, this function seems almost useless.
  • Unclear Marriage Compatibility: Kind of goes along with my support system comments.  Of course logically, the higher the support between two compatible characters, the more likely it is they’re going to get married.  However, since it isn’t clear how support conversations are being unlocked anymore in the first place, this can make things rather complicated and confusing when you’re trying to pair certain characters together.  Of course for those who don’t really care who ends up with who this isn’t as big of an issue, but to whom it matters, this can be a rather annoying problem.
  • It’s a Tough Economy: Like its predecessors, there isn’t really a way to “earn” money in this game.  You either get lucky from chests containing high priced (and mostly useless) items to sell, or you get “gifts” from villages you visit, an item where its sole function is to be sold for a lot of cash.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember it being as difficult to earn money in previous games.  In fact, I think I was always obscenely rich and never really in dire need of battle gear.  In this game, however, I always seem to be in poverty, even when I’m being frugal!  It’s kind of ridiculous.

And really, this is all just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to this game than what I’ve listed, but to go into nit picky detail about every single little thing would probably mean leaving this entry in my queue for another week or two until I’ve actually unearthed every little thing about this game so that I can write about it.  If I did that, I know this entry would probably end up not seeing the light of day.  If there is anything more additional worth noting, I’ll either update this entry or create a follow-up entry later on.

Overall, I think the best way to describe this game is that it’s like a totally immersive, interactive, and engaging storybook that I just can’t put down.  This one is definitely going to have a place in my permanent gaming library and not on my “to sell off later” shelf.  If you don’t own a copy and would like to buy one, check out your local Target or order it from Amazon, Best Buy, or GameStop/EB Games.  I think the last three merchants I mentioned have it all still available on pre-order, because of that whole supply/demand disaster.  I personally think it’s worth the investment, if you’re the gaming type.

Bottom line—it’s a game that deserves all the hype it’s getting.  Here’s to hoping Nintendo will continue to plug out more fresh Fire Emblem titles like this one.

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